A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Staying on course: Do I need to finish my antibiotics?

Woman taking antibiotics - Finishing Antibiotics

When it comes to finishing a course of antibiotics, the best advice is to consult with your medical provider.

Most of us have probably been prescribed a course of antibiotics. If so, your care provider likely stressed the importance of taking the full course of the medication until it was gone. However, there is beginning to be some push back against this advice.

An article released in February of 2017, citing a report to the World Health Organization, said there is an argument for stopping antibiotics once the medication has eliminated signs and symptoms of an infection, even if you are not finished with the full course of the medication.

Arguments against finishing a course

One of the main reasons put forth to stop taking an antibiotic is to protect against an infection becoming resistant to the medicine. Another argument is that prolonged used of an antibiotic can increase the risk for things like allergic reactions or liver damage, the article said.

“The traditional thinking has been that if you just finish part of your course, maybe your symptoms go away, but then there’s these bugs left over that have been exposed to and survived the antibiotics,” said Angela Brenner, senior clinical lead pharmacist for Marshfield Medical Center. “So they can come back as what we call a superbug and you may get sick again, but this time with a stronger, more resistant form of the bacteria.”

The bottom line

Brenner said she thinks more study is needed on this topic.

We don’t have a lot of evidence to prove that a certain length of a course makes sense,” Brenner said. “Is a seven-day course of antibiotics better than a six-day course? I don’t think we know the answer to that. Really, some of the durations are arbitrary.”

Brenner said this topic is a discussion in the medical community right now.

“My advice to patients would be to listen to your care providers,” Brenner said. “They will know your situation best and will be able to give you the best advice.”

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